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Women in labour face journeys of more than an hour to get to hospital as a result of the closure of a London maternity unit, health chiefs admitted today [Wednesday May 20].

GPs in Ealing were this afternoon expected to agree to shut Ealing hospital’s maternity department from July 1, with pregnant women redirected to six “super hospitals”.

A transport study analysing the effect on mothers-to-be found average car journeys to hospital would increase from 21 to 30 minutes, those by public transport from 33 to 51 minutes and emergency cases taken by ambulance from 11 to 13 minutes.

But the longest car journey would increase from 45 to 61 minutes while those using public transport from 76 to 89 minutes. One in six women using public transport would take an hour or more to get to hospital. Ambulances – required by more than 500 Ealing women a year – would take no more than 30 minutes.

Health bosses want to axe maternity services at Ealing – which handles about 2,400 deliveries a year – because it will be unable to meet new safety standards on consultant cover, placing it at “strong risk” of unplanned closure.

They say that having obstetricians and midwives on fewer sites – such as Queen Charlotte’s, Northwick Park and Hillingdon – will improve 24/7 care. This is needed because of an increase in complex or “risky” pregnancies. The move is part of the controversial Shaping a Healthier Future plan that has seen two A&Es closed and two more under threat.

But anti-closure campaigner Eve Turner said: “They have no interest in Ealing mums, especially the poorest and most deprived living in Greenford and Southall who will have to travel outside the area for appointments and to have their babies.
“There are no guarantees that the excellent 1-1 support given by Ealing midwives will be available and all the knowledge and experience of working with our different communities will be lost.”

The London Clinical Senate, an independent body of expert clinicians, said the loss of staff and fall in the number of women booking to have their baby at Ealing since the plans were agreed in principole in 2013 made the case for change “of even greater importance”.

*UPDATE: Following the meeting, this press release was issued by the NHS North West London Collaboration of CCGs:

Improvements to maternity services in North West London will be introduced from 1 July 2015.

The changes will improve healthcare for women across North West London by increasing midwife-to-birth ratios, providing more senior consultant cover in maternity units and moving towards 24/7 consultant cover on the labour ward, and greater investment in home birth teams.

As part of the changes, Ealing Hospital’s maternity unit will close and its services will be consolidated onto six hospital sites – all of which will have their facilities upgraded – across North West London as well as being delivered through more midwifery-led care in the community.

Most women from the borough of Ealing who choose to give birth at Hillingdon, West Middlesex, Northwick Park, Queen Charlotte’s and St Mary’s hospitals will still be able to have the majority of their antenatal and postnatal appointments at Ealing Hospital, if they wish.

Paediatric services will remain unchanged at Ealing Hospital, although there will be improvements to these services over the next 12 months with the introduction of a new Paediatric Rapid Access Clinic and seven-day consultant cover.

The date for the transition of maternity services was confirmed at a meeting of Ealing Clinical Commissioning Group’s Governing Body on 20 May 2015.

Dr Mohini Parmar, Ealing GP and Chair of NHS Ealing Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “Midwives and clinicians are clear that these changes will help improve healthcare for women across North West London by providing more consultant-led care and more midwives in our local communities.

“What’s more, many women from the borough of Ealing will still be able to have the majority of their antenatal and postnatal care at Ealing Hospital, if they wish.

“The clinical advice from independent bodies like the London Clinical Senate has always been to implement these changes as soon as possible in order to ensure we meet the changing – and improved – quality standards for maternity units in London.

“After much work, we now have the additional staffing, beds and facilities in our other hospitals in order to make this transition.”

The changes were first proposed by healthcare professionals across North West London in 2013 as part of the “Shaping a Healthier Future” programme.

These plans were subject to public consultation and review by the Independent Reconfiguration Panel (IRP), a group of national healthcare experts. The IRP supported the proposals and the Secretary of State subsequently committed the programme to proceeding.

The London Clinical Senate, an independent body of expert clinicians which provides strategic advice to improve quality of care and experience for patients, recently endorsed the clear need for these changes to maternity services to occur as soon as it is safe to do so and no later than June 2015.

Ealing Hospital maternity unit is currently a safe place for women to give birth. However, quality standards for maternity units are changing and in future Ealing Hospital would be unable to meet this new standard.

Dr Parmar continued: “We will be contacting all women who are currently booked to give birth at Ealing Hospital to discuss whether they are affected by the closure date or not, and what their options are.

“We also continue to work with midwives at Ealing Hospital to help support them in making this transition.”